Hello. I’m Gavin Edwards, contributing editor at Rolling Stone and the author of Last Night at the Viper Room, the ’Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy series, and (with the original MTV VJs) the New York Times bestseller VJ. I live in Los Angeles. I like caffeine, boardgames, and lists with three items.

1988 Countdown #37: Richard Marx, “Hold on to the Nights”

(New to the countdown? Catch up here.) marx2We return from our commercial break to see Adam Curry, who is somehow keeping his balance despite the enormous top-heavy weight of his hair and the twenty-pound decoration dangling from his breast pocket. Adam reads the copy while placing his splayed fingertips together, as if he were a Bond villain.

“The countdown continues of the top 100 videos of the past year, which was a spectacular year for Richard Marx. The climax of his career in 1988 must have been his show that he did for MTV during spring break in Daytona–everybody loved it. Of course, he produced Vixen in the past year, right now he’s working on the new Poco album, producing that, and he hopes to have an album of his own out by April of 1989. Right now, the #37 video on our top 100 countdown. Here’s Richard, with ‘Hold on to the Nights.’” marx1I don’t think “climax of his career” is quite what Curry meant–it implies that everything would be downhill for Marx after that–but it proved to be pretty much accurate. (He may not look back at the spring break show as the high-water mark, but I bet he gets nostalgic for 1988.) Also: Poco? Really?

We get a funky transition: about forty spinning little diamonds take us from Curry on set to the video. This was a state-of-the-art special effect in 1988. “Hold on to the Nights” was the fourth single from Marx’s triple-platinum debut album, which had been peeling off singles since the middle of 1987, which means that by ancient video law, it was time for a letterboxed performance video to show Marx’s fans how hard he was working for them on that long lonely road. This appears to be the studio track with some crowd noise overdubbed; I suppose I could check by listening to the original album version, but what I am willing to endure for this countdown has limits. marx3A color close-up of Marx’s hands playing the piano yields to a slow montage of black-and-white photos from the tour: screaming fans, Marx adopting a macho posture while playing guitar, more screaming fans, Marx with a microphone, Marx looking lonely at the keyboard. There’s a three-photo sequence where Marx reaches out to touch the outstretched hand of a girl in the crowd, like a particularly slow animation. MTV has the title of the song subtly wrong in the credits block: they’ve rendered it as “Hold Onto The Nights.” marx4Marx begins to sing–“Just when I believed / I couldn’t ever want for more”–which doesn’t particularly improve matters. We finally cut from his hands to his face: he’s in a black T-shirt, his hair looking poodle-perfect. There is a reserve microphone sitting on top of the piano, presumably in case Marx has a microphone emergency.

Marx continues singing. The lyrics don’t improve. “This ever-changing world / Pushes me through another door.” We get a wider shot, showing that Marx is surrounded by musicians in shadow, either waiting for their cue to start playing or conspiring for the best moment to leap on Marx and pummel him to death with that reserve microphone.

More doggerel: “I saw you smile / And my mind could not erase / The beauty of your face.” In 1988, I thought this song was a dreary, forgettable ballad, and it hasn’t gotten better in the interim. The main thing it has going for it is a certain level of professional craft: it’s a well-made, if utterly generic, song, with a professional but bloodless performance.

When this song was at its commercial height, my friend Ted Friedman was doing a shift at our college radio station, WYBC, playing the likes of Mudhoney and Sonic Youth. He got a call from a young woman who requested “Hold on to the Nights.”

“I’m not going to play that,” he told her. “But it’s the number-one song in the country. Just flip around on your radio–you’ll find it somewhere.”

We see a white towel on top of the piano, presumably because Marx sweats excessively when he’s emoting at full strength. Then there’s a live shot of woman in the audience, singing along to “let me shelter you.” marx5We get many more black-and-white still pictures (Marx playing guitar, Marx clenching fist, fan with lighter held aloft): my operating theory is that Marx’s management paid some photographer a lot of money for them, discovered they didn’t have any real use for them, and wanted to amortize the cost by throwing them into the video’s budget.

With a little shimmer of drumsticks on a cymbal, the band joins in, barely audibly. They are totally paycheck pros. The drummer has a big mop of curly hair, a mustache, and a pugnacious face. He looks like he’s the second heavy behind Dennis Farina in a made-for-cable gangster movie.

Marx renders the word “surprise” as “surpri-yi-ai-ize.” The rhyming word is “disguise,” which he managers to sing with fewer syllables. The editing on the still photos gets faster, trying to communicate a sense of excitement that the chorus doesn’t. With images of Marx’s tour flickering by, the video has a victory-lap feel, as if he was about to go into a long retirement. We see one shirt with a graphic element (Benetton?) and another with a picture of a gaunt Elvis Presley, with “ANNIVERSARY” visible underneath. Overplaying one’s Elvis delusions is a pretty common pitfall for the second-rate rock star. marx7Marx reaches the bridge, an opportunity to give us a few glimpses of offstage Richard: walking to the tour bus, looking out the bus window at blurry scenery, the band posing together, Richard presenting a gold record to a woman in a hospital bed (presumably an ailing fan who got a special visit, not somebody that got hit by his bus), Richard lying on a hotel bed and talking on the phone, then several shots of Richard looking pensive. marx9The band has been laboring, to little effect on the audio mix. But now there’s an audible guitar solo. The guitarist is wearing a denim jacket and has his hair piled high; he looks like a Q-Tip. Marx picks up that microphone–as Chekov said, if there’s an unused mic sitting on the piano in the first act, a singer must use it in the third act–and goes right to the lip of the stage. A reserve pianist is released from his life-support pod and fills in on the keyboard.

Marx kneels down next to one young woman in a maroon top, who is singing along. Right next to her are three guys, who look kind of bored, and I wonder how they ended up in the front row. This doesn’t actually appear to be a live show–I think it was filmed in a studio with just a few rows of fans, and was bolstered by the photos to give that onstage feel. marx11Marx hits his version of maximum rockage, belting out the chorus while reaching up to the sky. As the guitarist keeps soloing, we see more black and white shots of the band, revealing that it has a saxophone player. Marx leans back and finishes with a dramatic punch in the air, and again, and again. And then the video ends with a shot of a single lighter in the air, a testament to the raw pulsating power of adult-contemporary music.

“Hold on to the Nights,” as mentioned previously, topped the Billboard singles charts. You can watch it here. It was the last single off Richard Marx; while it seems odd to end an album cycle right after you hit #1, I guess he must have been eager to get to work on Repeat Offender. Or maybe the record company thought everything else on this record was dreck. Marx also appeared on the countdown at #66, with “Endless Summer Nights.”

posted 25 September 2014 in 1988. 3 comments

Rolling in the Deep: 9/23/14

rs1218If you’ve been waiting for me to post here to see what I’ve been up to lately for Rolling Stone, then happy days are here again! I attended the Made in America festival, the VMAs, an Ed Sheeran concert, and the Simpsons gala at the Hollywood Bowl. I wrote half of a list about the best bands to come from college football towns, and the whole list of sidekicks who are speechless (most or all of the time). But you might particularly enjoy two interviews with living legends: one is with XKCD creator Randall Munroe (about his #1 national bestseller What If) and the other is with singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen (about his 13th studio album, Popular Problems). (The Cohen Q&A is actually a companion piece to a short profile I wrote of Cohen; that’ll be appearing in the print magazine this week, and online sometime soon.)

posted 23 September 2014 in Outside. no comments yet

Happiness is Obiter Dicta

lucyscaliaI realized the other day that Antonin Scalia is a real-life Lucy Van Pelt: the funniest and meanest member of the gang, happy to make up facts as necessary, a fussbudget before all else. So what are the other parallels between the sitting members of the Supreme Court and the Peanuts kids?

Anthony Kennedy is Charlie Brown, for the wishy-washiness. Ruth Ginsburg is Linus Van Pelt, for the general warmth towards humanity and for the blanket, which could clearly be adapted into a ruffled collar in a pinch. Samuel Alito is Violet–working in the mold of Scalia/Lucy, but not as memorably. John Roberts is Snoopy, for the ability to argue both sides of any issue and for being able to impose his own desired reality on those around him. Clarence Thomas is Woodstock: largely silent, interpreted only by Snoopy.

My final three parallels are vaguer (or more instinctive, if you prefer): Sonia Sotamayor seems like Schroeder to me, on the basis of passion; Elena Kagan is Marcie, mostly because of the haircut; while Stephen Breyer is Shermy, earned by being the most forgettable member of the group.

If you would have assigned them differently, or if you have nominations for past Justices, let me know in the comments.

posted 16 September 2014 in Tasty Bits. no comments yet

Thirteenth Anniversary

I still think about my experiences on 9/11, and am grateful that they recede into history, even if the consequences of that day don’t.

posted 11 September 2014 in Archives, Self-reflexive. no comments yet

Friday Foto: Tunnel

IMG_8762 - Version 2Taken in (or underneath) downtown Los Angeles. Color not adjusted.

posted 22 August 2014 in Photos. no comments yet

Friday Foto: Anti-Fork Brigade

IMG_8799

posted 15 August 2014 in Photos. no comments yet

Rolling in the Deep: 8/14/14

rs1215The march of progress! Some of my recent work for Rolling Stone, if you’d like to catch up: I interviewed Beck about his all-star Song Reader album (for the print magazine, but also available in a longer version online). Also in the print magazine: my home studio visit with Avicii. I conducted a five-way Q&A with G.R.L., a girl group on the rise (who were much funnier than I expected). I spotlighted cool old live performances by Michael Stipe with Bruce Springsteen, Beck, Hole, Bjork and PJ Harvey, David Bowie and Cher, and New Order (on the set of Baywatch). I interviewed club promoter and convicted killer Michael Alig, musicians Nico & Vinz, producer Quincy Jones, and director Spike Lee (about Do the Right Thing). If you’re feeling list-oriented, you might want to check out my rundowns of drummers who became guitarists, big hit singles not sung by the band’s usual lead singer, bizarre free-throw shooters, sports fans humiliated on cameraextraordinarily long home runs, and crazy Rick James stories–and my contributions to the ranking of the 100 greatest Seinfeld characters.

In a newsy vein, I wrote about the death of Bobby Womack, an upcoming Johnny Ramone tribute, a potential Kinks reunion, and Star Wars spinoff director Josh Trank. I also reviewed a live Jack White show. And I’m particularly proud of my analysis of a sequence from Pulp Fiction (the section featuring Bruce Willis and the Gimp).

posted 14 August 2014 in Outside. no comments yet

#1 Billboard Comedy Albums

AllanShermanNutsCongratulations to “Weird Al” Yankovic, who just topped the Billboard charts with his latest album, Mandatory Fun. I’ve seen some sources claim it’s the first comedy album to top the chart since 1960, when Bob Newhart unleashed the monster hit that was The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart (14 weeks at #1!). In fact, there were a bunch of other chart-topping comedy albums in the early 1960s: in 1961, for example, Newhart had a #1 followup, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back! And Allan Sherman (now best remembered for “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!”) released three chart-topping albums of song parodies: yes, he was the Weird Al of his day. My Son, the Folk Singer (1962) was followed in 1963 by My Son, the Celebrity and My Son, the Nut. As far as I can tell, My Son, the Nut was the last #1 comedy album before Mandatory Fun, making for a gap of 51 years. Steve Martin came close in 1978, though, hitting #2 with A Wild and Crazy Guy.

There was one other early-60s comedy album to hit #1: The First Family, by Vaughn Meader. In case you aren’t familiar with Vaughn Meader: he was a JFK impressionist whose career was stratospheric before November 22, 1963 (The First Family won the Grammy for Album of the Year and sold over 7 million copies) and over after it. Famously, at Lenny Bruce’s first gig after the JFK assassination, he went onstage and opened with the line, “Man, is Vaughn Meader fucked!”

posted 23 July 2014 in Tasty Bits. 2 comments

Friday Foto: The Crystal Van

IMG_8251The van, encrusted with Swarovski crystals, is the headquarters of the dance duo Heartsrevolution. Photographed on the streets of Austin, Texas, during SXSW, earlier this year.

posted 18 July 2014 in Photos. no comments yet

Rolling in the Deep, 5/14/14

rs1207Would you like to catch up on some of my recent Rolling Stone bylines? Of course you would! I had an article in the print edition of the magazine (the Julia Louis-Dreyfus issue) on the all-star sessions recording recently unearthed Dylan lyrics from the Basement Tapes sessions (which was crazy fun to report, hanging out with Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford). I’ve also had a slew of stories on the Rolling Stone website: I ran down a list of the most famous rock ‘n’ roll pets (Martha, my dear, and ten more). I attended the I Heart Radio Awards, got quotes from celebrities, and then wrote up the best and worst moments of the evening. I wrote an item about Steven Soderbergh’s edit of Michael Cimino’s famous bomb Heaven’s Gate. I interviewed Natalie Merchant, Avey Tare, and the awesome EMA (not together). I wrote a news item on an upcoming academic conference about the Who’s Quadrophenia. I reviewed the new-wave history Mad World. I wrote about records intended to have exceptionally limited pressings. I went to Coachella and filed a couple of dozen dispatches about what I saw (as part of a team including Matt Diehl and Steve Appleford–the items aren’t individually bylined, but you might particularly enjoy my Neutral Milk Hotel report). And I compiled a list of six Beatles projects that were once widely available but have now fallen out of print. (Yes, you can find many of them bootlegged on the net, but I’d love for them to come back into print officially.)

posted 14 May 2014 in Outside. no comments yet